The cast of 'Mind Your Language', a British TV series about foreigners learning English.
Mastering a new language helps to open your eyes to a different world.
WORKING as a part-time tuition teacher to primary school students is no child’s play. In fact, every job requires some effort and perseverance, and the experience can be rewarding.
One notable experience I had as a tuition teacher was when I saw one of my students being teased by his peers for not being able to speak Mandarin.
It was a form of childish bullying which I had gone through before.
The student happened to be a foreigner who mainly spoke English. The scene was a typical depiction of the inability of people to understand each other due to a language barrier.
While I was flipping through the pages of the workbooks, the scene reminded me of my teenage years.
My primary language was English, but most of my peers in school spoke Mandarin, too. Naturally, it was difficult to break the language barrier and for a while, I was ostracised.
It was a traumatic experience especially during one’s teenage years when everybody in school, including me, was searching for an identity. I had to choose to between continuing to be a pseudo-introvert or make friends with the crowd.
I decided to choose the latter.
I am not saying that it is not all right to be different from the crowd. Mastering a new language is hard, but it can provide a lot of new opportunities in life because it makes one look at life from different angles.
I realised that there was no point being pretentious and made an effort to learn Mandarin from them.
Initially, it was difficult, but I learned to be polite and humble the hard way despite the teenage angst; it was always there throughout my teens.
I decided to learn by asking them how to read, write and speak in Mandarin. I also trained myself to listen more and speak out less, because it was the best way to learn a new language properly.
Although it was a painstaking process, after years of informal training, I graduated from school with the ability to speak the language somewhat better, thanks to all the help from my peers.
The experience made me understand that learning a new language helps me see things through the eyes of the speaker.
Nonetheless, I would like to express my gratitude to my English-speaking friends and my English teachers, all of whom are from diverse cultural backgrounds because without them, I would not have had the courage to write about it.
Back to the scene at the tuition centre, I remember reprimanding the students who teased the foreigner for his inability to speak their language. This situation never happened again in class. Now, I see some of my tuition students becoming bilingual and trilingual.
Sometimes, I find it hard to switch languages, much like switching to different radio frequencies – just to make them understand what I am teaching.
Other times, I find it easier to use Malay to communicate clearly to each and everyone of my students so that they know how to do simple division, subtraction, addition and multiplication.
Ultimately, it is not about the language which the person is speaking in, but the heart that matters the most.